Tuesday, February 19, 2008

After Sunday’s Kosovar independence declaration comes President Bush’s stamp of approval for a Republic of Kosovo and the nod of the four major European Union powers: France, Germany, Britain and Italy. In all likelihood, the result will be Europe’s 46th legally sovereign government, with a population that is 90 percent Muslim. What is far less clear is whether a weak, perpetually dependent Kosovar statelet — and make no mistake, this will be a toothless, weak and impoverished state — is in the United States’ best interest.

The answer is no. Lawlessness and terrorism are likely to fester inside Kosovo — which is rife with organized criminal gangs and plagued by corruption. Slavic resentments emanating from neighboring Serbia and Russian revanchism are a certainty. Much as the Bush administration and European governments favor independence, it creates new problems where old ones lay dormant,

There is really only one potentially positive result from an independent Kosovo: some measure of self-determination for a long-oppressed people. But at this time it is questionable whether independence is the right way to achieve this. Given the territory’s recent history, it is difficult to imagine independence occurring without serious jeopardy to U.S. and European interests, at least in the short term.

With terrorism and international criminal activity being the United States’ two greatest concerns in this region, Kosovo’s independence surely cannot redound favorably to either. Remnants of the old drug-smuggling, arms-trafficking terrorist organization calling itself the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) are still active. Indeed, many of this al-Qaeda-linked organization’s alumni are alive and well in positions of influence. The KLA was among the first international terrorist groups linked to al Qaeda in the late 1990s. Western intelligence agencies observed its members training at al Qaeda terror camps a decade ago and more. Look for its veterans and their sympathizers in government to achieve a new prominence in a Kosovo freed from Serbia.

Loose European talk of incorporating the entire Balkans one day into the European Union should frighten EU citizens in this context. Then they will consider the economics of inclusion. Kosovo’s 2004 per capita income is under $3,000. Unemployment is thought to hover near 40 percent. Foreign assistance comprises approximately one-third of GDP. In short, Kosovo cannot possibly sustain itself economically or militarily in the present. Indeed, it may never be able to do so.

Outside Kosovo’s borders, complications are materializing, beginning with more serious Russian and Serbian resistance than previously anticipated. Yesterday, Serbia formally protested the European Union’s mission to Kosovo, a 2,000-strong force of police and rule-of-law experts who officially began operations the day before Kosovo’s independence declaration. But Russian obstructionism at the U.N. Security Council is a very possible second act to Serbia’s opposition. Unhelpful declarations of sympathy and support, or perhaps even diplomatic recognition, for breakaway movements in ex-Soviet satellite states such as Georgia’s Abkhazia region, where rebels control of an unrecognized command state, now become more easy for Moscow to justify. As former senior U.S. diplomats John Bolton, Lawrence Eagleburger and Peter Rodman, critics of independence for Kosovo right now, wrote three weeks ago in The Washington Times: “[T]he United States should not prompt an unnecessary crisis in U.S.-Russia relations.”

Of course, the long-term reason to wonder about Kosovar independence is the U.S. troop commitment there. Independence actually means perpetual dependence on NATO and other foreign forces, which will likely continue for decades. As of the fall, about 1,500 U.S. service members were deployed there. Presently, the 2,000-strong E.U. contingent shows a commitment to Kosovo’s security well into the future. But at a moment when reciprocity of security commitments among NATO partners in Afghanistan is nowhere to be seen, and U.S. forces are overstretched in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, no one should bet on Europe’s will to persevere a decade hence. And yet, independence creates the conditions for the United States to be called upon to stave off chaos in the event that some future roster of European leaders go “Afghan” on Kosovo.

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